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Hyper-excitability and epilepsy generated by chronic early-life stress


Epilepsy is more prevalent in populations with high measures of stress, but the neurobiological mechanisms are unclear. Stress is a common precipitant of seizures in individuals with epilepsy, and may provoke seizures by several mechanisms including changes in neurotransmitter and hormone levels within the brain. Importantly, stress during sensitive periods early in life contributes to 'brain programming', influencing neuronal function and brain networks. However, it is unclear if early-life stress influences limbic excitability and promotes epilepsy. Here we used an established, naturalistic model of chronic early-life stress (CES), and employed chronic cortical and limbic video-EEGs combined with molecular and cellular techniques to probe the contributions of stress to age-specific epilepsies and network hyperexcitability and identify the underlying mechanisms. In control male rats, EEGs obtained throughout development were normal and no seizures were observed. EEGs demonstrated epileptic spikes and spike series in the majority of rats experiencing CES, and 57% of CES rats developed seizures: Behavioral events resembling the human age-specific epilepsy infantile spasms occurred in 11/23 (48%), accompanied by EEG spikes and/or electrodecrements, and two additional rats (9%) developed limbic seizures that involved the amygdala. Probing for stress-dependent, endogenous convulsant molecules within amygdala, we examined the expression of the pro-convulsant neuropeptide corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), and found a significant increase of amygdalar--but not cortical--CRH expression in adolescent CES rats. In conclusion, CES of limited duration has long-lasting effects on brain excitability and may promote age-specific seizures and epilepsy. Whereas the mechanisms involved require further study, these findings provide important insights into environmental contributions to early-life seizures.

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